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Walking in the Healing Forest

The healing forest at the All Saints Anglican Church in Westboro (Ottawa). (Courtesy Patricia Stirbys)


While participating in a healing walk in Ottawa in 2015, Patricia Stirbys met and struck up a conversation with Peter Croal about the need for reconciliation and healing in Indigenous communities and Canada as a whole.

That is when Croal told Stirbys about his idea of creating healing forests across the country.

“We started to talk about this idea and week after week expanded on it,” said Stirbys, a Saulteaux Cree woman from the Cowessess First Nation.

“Both Peter and I then attended the release of the Truth and Reconciliation report, and it was quite an emotional time, so it really bonded Peter and me.”

Stirbys graduated from the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and has practiced law in both Saskatchewan and Ontario.

According to Stirbys, the purpose of a healing forest is to bring together survivors and families of the residential school legacy as well as community members to heal, reflect, talk, and meditate; all while doing it in a natural space that is connected to the land.

“We would like to see healing forests coast-to-coast and to start building a better understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Because often, the lack of understanding and education about each other leads to conflict.

“It is a safe space and a place where people can explore their feelings and share. A place that elders can come and do ceremonies for people,” said Stirbys.

Since Stirbys and Croal started their initiative, a couple of healing forests have been created in different communities across Canada.

“There is one at the Abegweit First Nations in PEI. That just got completed this summer.”

According to Stirbys, it is Atlantic Canada’s first healing forest and was developed by Brendan Kelly and Leigh Gustafson, in partnership with Roddy Gould, who is Abegweit.

Croal and Stirbys don’t provide communities with the funds to create a healing forest, but they help with the planning and fundraising.

And as more healing forests start sprouting up all over the country, they will also connect people from different communities so they can support each other.

“My background is law. I have worked with different levels of government, and I have been able to see and visit different communities. And we have all read about the healing that is needed in a lot of our communities and the hurt,” said Stirbys.

“I have seen racism, actions taking because of a lack of understanding of one another and I would like to see our communities heal, I would like to see Canada heal from the past and the only way that I think we can do that is for everyone to come together and have a better understanding of each other.

“Through this initiative, there will be a lot of healing on both sides,” she said.

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